Recommendations for Addressing the Wicked Problem of Online Learning

I’m currently part of a small group in my grad class class that is working on solving a “Wicked Problem”. This is a problem that is difficult to solve because of it’s complexity and a lack of a clear solution(s). A wicked problem also has a great deal of interdependence in it’s structures and thus solving one aspect of it may create a new problem. The means that “solving” a wicked problem, by it’s very nature, is likely impossible.

But we had to try.

The wicked problem we took on was that of online learning and the different ways it manifests itself. It could be distance learning, MOOCs, blended learning environments, online classes offered through a university or secondary school, or automated training programs. Our goal was to come up with guidelines for anyone trying to implement a quality online learning environment. We had to consider stakeholders (students, teachers, industry, communities, institutions) and constraints (technology, availability, pedagogy, etc.). Classes that are not engaging, not pedagogically sound, isolating to the student, leave out the teacher, and don’t result in quality learning experiences are just a few of the problems that plague online learning.

Although it has many problems, online learning has great potential to change education in a positive way. We came up with policy recommendations that ideally would help ensure quality experiences for all stakeholders. (You can read our white paper here.) We focused on the “how” and “why” of online learning and tried to balance technology, content, and pedagogy in our recommendations. You can click the image below to see our Blendspace that contains an info graphic, video of our collaboration and brainstorming process, white paper, and our references. We’ve received feedback from colleagues and adjusted our recommendations accordingly. We put a lot of time into this project and are really excited about the results! Please feel free to ask questions or provide constructive feedback!

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Community of Practice Survey Analysis

It’s difficult to work in the world of education and not bump into a conversation on educational technology on a somewhat regular basis. Often we base what we know about our community’s (school or district) knowledge on educational technology simply on anecdotal interactions we have with our colleagues. In my MAET course I was asked to design and implement a survey to gain quantitative data on my community’s knowledge of technology, their aspirations for technology integration, and their ideas on what support they needed for integrating technology. Understanding the community in which we work helps to understand how technology might be effectively integrated in the future.

I want to give a brief overview of the results to my survey. You can see the raw data here and a more thorough analysis of my results here. Of the 47 people respond to my survey, most (44) were teachers, with two administrators and one counselor responding. My district is relatively large (approximately 3500 students district wide) located in rural Michigan. I hesitated to ask respondents the age level they worked with for fear of that information identifying a respondent (for instance, an administrator at the high school level would leave only one person) and because of this cannot break down my data in terms of elementary, secondary, etc. There are 260 teachers and administrators in my district so 47 respondents represents roughly 18% of the entire staff.

Significant Findings

Although there were not really any shocking results there were a few trends worth noting. A vast majority (75%) agreed that having an online component to their class would enhance the learning environment. Although many respondents (62%) believed that they should have a BYOD policy, many voiced concerns about using students deices. These concerns revolved primarily around distractions they may cause and the possibility that BYOD would emphasize the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”. Although there were many that voiced concerns about BYOD, a solid majority (68%) agreed that allowing students to use their devices for educational purposed would likely increase the learning in their classroom. A vast majority (87%) said they wanted to integrate a broader range of technology into their practice. This indicates that overall the district is very open minded to technology integration. As far as barriers to technology integration, there was essentially a three way tie between “lack of student access”, “lack of funding”, and “lack of time to learn various technologies”.

In summary, my data indicates that most teachers are open to more technology integration and believe it would enhance the learning environment for students. If there is to be more technology integration it seems that the issue of student access needs to be answered and that teachers need time (coupled with quality PD) to effectively implement the technology. None of this is terribly striking, but I was definitely glad to see an overall openness to technology integration in my district.

Wicked Problem: Post 1

I’m currently part of a small group in my grad class class that is working on solving a “Wicked Problem”. This is a problem that is difficult to solve because of it’s complexity and a lack of a clear solution(s). A wicked problem also has a great deal of interdependence in it’s structures and thus solving one aspect of it may create a new problem. The means that “solving” a wicked problem, by it’s very nature, is likely impossible.

But we had to try.

The wicked problem we took on was that of online learning and the different ways it manifests itself. It could be distance learning, MOOCs, blended learning environments, online classes offered through a university or secondary school, or automated training programs. Our goal was to come up with guidelines for anyone trying to implement a quality online learning environment. We had to consider stakeholders (students, teachers, industry, communities, institutions) and constraints (technology, availability, pedagogy, etc.). Classes that are not engaging, not pedagogically sound, isolating to the student, leave out the teacher, and don’t result in quality learning experiences are just a few of the problems that plague online learning.

Although it has many problems, online learning has great potential to change education in a positive way. We came up with policy recommendations that ideally would help ensure quality experiences for all stakeholders. (You can read our white paper here.) We focused on the “how” and “why” of online learning and tried to balance technology, content, and pedagogy in our recommendations. You can click the image below to see our Blendspace that contains an info graphic, video of our collaboration and brainstorming process, white paper, and our references.

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Counting the Calories in my “Information diet”

I recently read James Gee’s book, The Anti-Education Era, and it made me begin to think about the networked affinity spaces that I utilize regularly.  According to Gee (2004), “An affinity space is a place or set of places where people affiliate with others based primarily on shared activities, interests, and goals, not shared race, class culture, ethnicity, or gender” (p. 67). It’s important to understand the influence these have on me, as I gain most of my information from them.

Ways in Which Networked Affinity Spaces Currently Inform my Thinking and it’s Limitations

The networked affinity space that I typically use is Twitter. I use Twitter to connect with like-minded people and to grow as a professional. I noticed that I don’t often follow people with opposing views. If I find somebody that says things I like or that I find interesting then I follow them. If they say things that frustrate me or that I disagree with, then I unfolllow them. This may make me less frustrated  as I read my Twitter feed but it also means that I’m not taking in opposing viewpoints regularly. It assumes that my current views are correct and unchanging. In editing my Twitter feed in this way I’m creating what Eli Pariser would call a filter bubble. (Check out his TED talk for more on filter bubbles.) It’s important that I’m not always adding like minded people to my Twitter feed as the information we take in should be balanced and diverse. Gee notes that “such diversity expands the possibilities for new discoveries and survival in the face of change.” It’s not that diversifying my affinity spaces will make me change my views necessarily, but it will help me better understand opposing viewpoints and see their positive contributions to the conversation.

Adding New Sources to Expand my Mind (Emphasis on the capital “M”)

Twitter, however is not the only place I get information. I also gain a lot of information from blogs I’ve aggregated on Feedly. I rarely seek out opposing viewpoints and add them to Feedly. However, because I think there’s value in listening to opposing arguments and actively seeking them out, I’ve added a couple blogs that generally contain opposing viewpoints. The first is What is Common Core. This is an anti-common core website that routinely writes about the “terrible” effects Common Core will have on our society. As a younger teacher I just assumed Common Core was better then what we had before, without really thinking about it. Now that I’ve thought about it a lot more I still thinks it’s better, but admit that, like any curriculum, it has some shortcomings. I hope this blog will help me understand them better.

I also added Jeff Lindsay’s blog. Jeff is a parent that writes about the value in “traditional” approaches to learning. I disagree with most of the things he says, but I think it’s important to hear opposing viewpoints, especially from parents. I think that there are times when “traditional” (although I hate that word, because that implies things like inquiry learning are “modern”, which isn’t true) techniques are appropriate and I hope to better understand when those times occur.

In terms of Twitter I followed a person (the Algebros)  that, although they’re Flipped Classroom teachers, I disagree with on a few points about implementation. One problem with a lot of flipped learning is the assumption that knowledge is primarily attained through direct instruction. My viewpoint is that the DI is only a piece of the learning puzzle and that it often should’t be the starting point or “first exposure” to a topic. I also wonder about the effectiveness of the mastery model in more homogenous classes (in terms of ability). It seems as though they don’t wonder about this, as illustrated by our recent conversation. I think that having their viewpoint in my Twitter feed will help me refine my views on effective flipped learning.

Summary

I think that it’s important to keep a balanced “information diet”. I notice, mainly on Twitter, that discussions are often not directed toward understanding opposing viewpoints, but toward demonstrating how a certain viewpoint is correct and another is incorrect. I think Gee and Pariser would agree that you shouldn’t just add diverse viewpoints to your network to argue with them, but to better understand their position in the hopes of generating new knowledge and ideas.

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This image, I think, represents affinity spaces and the lack of overlap in the many spaces we participate in.

Image via yaph on Flickr, shared under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

References

Gee, J. P. (2013). The anti-education era: creating smarter students through digital learning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Trade.

TED2011. (2011). Beware online ”filter bubbles”  given by Eli Pariser (video file and transcript). Retrieved on July 13, 2014 from, http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles

Networked Learning Post #2

In my MAET classes at MSU we were asked to learn something new using only forums and youtube/video resources. For this project I chose to learn HTML and CSS with the goal being that I create a “landing page” that has links to all my “stuff” (blog, class pages, etc.). I want to give you an update on how this learning process is going.

My Resources

I started with codecademy.com to begin my learning. This isn’t really a forum but it’s step by step nature was a great starting point. Within it there are question and answer forums that I relied on when I became stuck. I created this reference sheet to help me once I began to make my own site. Codecademy was great for starting off but I knew that if I didn’t take notes then I’d be lost later. Once I began to get some of the language down I started looking for editors to use and someone in a forum suggested Brackets. I’ve found this to be an awesome resource because it instantly updates all the edits I make to the webpage in a quick view window. I got a lot of mileage out of this video which shows the basics of creating an HTML document from scratch. I’ve also used Stackoverflow which is an awesome online community for programmers. Of these resources Stackoverflow and Codecademy have been the most helpful.

The Learning Process: Challenges and Solutions

I started off knowing nothing so even though Codecademy gave me baby steps to learning to code, when I jumped into

2014-07-10_00-50-21creating my own documents I got lost quickly. One of the biggest challenges I had to overcome was figuring out how to make my HTML document communicate with my CSS document. After scouring forums I found a post that wasn’t directly related to my problem, but after I studied the code the person had pasted I saw exactly what I was missing. The line of code highlighted to the right is the key to making the two documents talk to each other.

A more broader challenge is just simply learning a new language. There are syntax rules, different commands, structural elements, and countless other challenges that make this project complex. The more I work with it, like any language, the more fluent I become. The solution to overcoming these challenges is time spent working with the language, but also identifying a goal (designing my landing page) and having “go-to” resources to pull from along the way. This helps me overcome fluency problems as well as broader structural problems with learning the language.

Below is a photo of my webpage from the beginning as well as a photo in it’s current state. Next to
 each is the code that created it. It doesn’t look like much now but you’d be surprised at how much time went into getting it to this point.

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Here is a short video highlighting the moment I realized how to connect the HTML doc and CSS doc.

 

How to Make a Human Drum kit

In my Masters of Educational Technology program at Michigan State we had the opportunity to host a Maker Faire. We broke up into groups and each group designed a maker “station”. Our group created a human drum kit and it turned out awesome! I want to share a “how-to” for building a human drum kit.

Purpose: The purpose of this activity is to leverage the power of a Makey Makey and Scratch programming to create a set up where one person in a group is a drummer, and each of the other people in the group are part of the drum kit (snare, cymbals, etc.). When the “drummer” touches the hand of the person connected to the snare wire it will complete the circuit causing the snare sound (in Scratch) to play. If you have a person for each part of the drum kit you will then have a fully operational drum set (made of people).

Materials Needed

  • Makey Makey
  • Several Alligator clips and connecting wires
  • Conductive thread (This has two uses, first it is sewn into the “drummers” head band, second it extends the connections between the Makey Makey and the parts of the drum kit.)
  • Pipe Cleaners (To create the bracelets that parts of the drum kit will wear.)
  • Copper Tape (To wrap around the pipe cleaners, so that the wristbands are conductive.)
  • A computer with working speakers that is running this Scratch Program

For the set up I will be referencing the diagram below. The blue dotted lines represent conductive thread connected to wristbands (pipe cleaners wrapped in copper tape) which must be touching human skin. The red dotted line is conductive thread connected from the “earth” part of the Makey Makey to a headband. The headband had conductive thread woven into it. The thread must be touching the forehead (skin). With the scratch program running on the computer a person only needs to touch the drummer for that instrument to sound. This completes the circuit which sends the signal to the computer.

A special note about the kick drum: You can use a wrist band and a person for the kick drum. We found that it worked better if we attached the blue kick drum wire to copper tape on the floor. Then when the drummer touched it with their bare foot they completed the circuit for the kick drum. This allowed for the kick drum to feel more natural. (You could also connect the blue wire to tin foil and wrap it around the person’s shoe if you didn’t want to go barefoot.)

Human Drum Kit Set up

 

General Suggestions

Here are a few suggestions after having been through the project. First, tape down the wires. This keeps them much more organized. Second, make sure there are many points of contact for the headband. Third, make sure no wires are touching the headband wire. This unintentionally completes the circuit. Last, make sure that the copper on the wristbands has a good contact with human skin. Without that you can’t complete the circuit.

Below are a few images and videos of the drum kit in action. If you have any questions at all please leave a comment or tweet me and I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

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Lesson Plan Version 5.0: Final Revision

Over the course of the last week and a half I’ve taken my old lesson plan over the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus and made several revisions to it as it was examined through different frameworks. The lesson plan was originally very traditional (direct instruction to start, modeling with guided instruction, independent practice, and follow up the next day). However, as I looked at it through different lenses I made several modifications to the original lesson plan that made a better use of technology, made the learning more accessible and engaging, and leveraged networks in an effective way. You can check out my original lesson plan and my revised lesson plan directly below it, here.

Major Revisions

I want to first highlight some of the major revisions I implemented and my justification for them. I started with the beginning of the lesson. I wanted to start with some sort of inquiry style activity to get students familiar with the concepts on their own terms. I did this because often when students are faced with tasks lacking apparent meaning or logic, it will be “difficult for them (students) to learn with understanding at the start; they may need to take time to explore underlying concepts and to generate connections” (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, 1999, p. 58). You can check out the activity I developed and the Wolfram Alpha animation it’s centered around.

In addition to making a shift towards inquiry, I wanted to leverage technology in a more effective way. To do that I decided that each student would do the activity mentioned above, on a Google doc. This will allow me to easily follow along and provide feedback as they work through the activity. Frequent and timely feedback is incredibly important to the learning process (Bradsford et al, 1999, p. 59). During the proof stage of the lesson, I will have them participate in a backchannel via Google Docs, providing me with questions they still have and a summary of their understanding of the proof. I can then send this out to a few teachers in my network and get feedback on how to approach whatever student misconceptions still exist. I will still be using “low tech” methods in the collaborative whiteboarding, but will be having them share out their solutions with the class in a more structured way. I will be pushing them to verbally explain their thinking process as they worked through each problem. This gives students another means by which to express their understanding (beyond writing) which breaks down barriers to learning by allowing multiple means of expression (Rose and Gravel, 2011).

One of my last revisions was to create a more focused prompt for students focus on in there weekly blog reflection. My research on Gifted and Talented Learners suggested that it’s good for students to consider how they used inductive and deductive learning so I built that into the learning prompt (Sheffield, 1994, p. xvi). In addition to the blog post post they will also have to give constructive feedback on their blog posts to each other. They will look at a peer’s post through a critical lens which will help students further explore their own understanding of the concept.

Thoughts on the Revision Process

This process has allowed me to see assessment and evaluation differently. Some of the technology I’ve implemented will allow me to assess and provide feedback during and after the lesson in a much more effective way. In other lessons I want to build in a better continuous feedback loop to help students understand where they’re at in the learning process. I tried to do this before, but I think I have some techniques that will allow me to do a better job of it in the future.

More broadly speaking I’ve grown as a professional in this process. Now that I’ve studied the constructivist approach to learning, Universal Design for Learning, the TPACK framework, and network learning I will be able to better utilize these frameworks in my other lessons. I won’t do it in such a formal way, but as I revise in the future I will look through each one of these lenses to create effective lessons that integrate technology and reach more learners. These are powerful tools that I didn’t have prior to going through those revisions. I think being a quality educator means being able to evaluate lessons from different perspectives and I think I’m closer to that standard now.

References

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Rose, D.H. & Gravel, J. (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines (V.2.0).Wakefield, MA: CAST.org. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines

Sheffield, L. J. (1994). The Development of Gifted and Talented Mathematics Students and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards. Storrs, CT: The National Research on the Gifted and Talented.